Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries



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Romans 6:1-11

You may remember I preached on Romans 5 a couple of months ago where we looked at the idea of the peace we now have with God and potentially with those around us. Key to that was the fact that this peace came about through God’s freely given gift of grace. That gift frees us from sin and judgement and that freedom is absolute.

But now he goes on to think about what it means to be truly free. You may have noticed that Americans are big on freedom. Freedom of speech and freedom to bear arms appear to be the major ones at the moment. But how often does that freedom seem to move into a grey area of licence, of acting from self-interest and even anti-social behaviour, not to mention mass murder!

Well, that’s America but what does it mean for us to think that we’re free? Does it mean we can do what we like? Does sin matter if God promises to forgive us no matter what we do?

That’s the question that Paul grapples with in this passage today. It’s all very well to say, as Paul does at the end of ch 5, that where sin increased, grace abounded proportionately: the more the sin the more grace was applied; but does that mean that if I sin a bit more, God’s grace will just increase a bit more? Grace is a good thing, so if my sin means that grace increases, isn’t that actually a good thing?

Well, no. He begins this chapter with that very question: “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” He understands where the question is coming from, but his answer comes back quickly: “By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” The whole point of the good news is that we’ve been freed from sin’s power. So how can we continue to obey our sinful desires? That’s how ch5 ends: “21so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might [now] exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What Paul is pointing out as he goes through this letter is that everything is changed by Christ’s entry into our world. What Christ has done affects us now and into the future and what the future holds needs to affect our life right now. In fact what we find in this chapter is that there’s a past, present and future aspect to our salvation which all affect each other.

The Past.

He says “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” There are in fact 2 events in the past which are important for us. The first, of course, is Jesus death on the cross. In Jesus’ death sin was destroyed once and for all, death was defeated and we were brought into a new relationship with God. The reign of sin over humanity was overcome at that moment when Jesus Christ, the sinless one, took on himself the punishment due to all of humanity. The second event of the past was our coming to faith, signified by our baptism. Again death is involved but this time it’s our death. That’s what baptism is all about. Baptism symbolises death, death to sin. It symbolises the fact that we’ve been incorporated into the death of Christ. As a result we now live outside the realm of sin as we’ll see in a moment. I liken it to someone dying who has a huge HECS debt and the debt is simply wiped out. With our entry into Christ’s death the power of sin is wiped out

The Future

There’s also a sense in which our dying to sin awaits a future fulfilment. There will come a day when we’ll die to sin finally and irreversibly. That is, on the day when we die physically, finally and irreversibly. And having died we’ll be raised again, at Christ’s return, to eternal life, with a new body no longer subject to temptation and sin. At which we cry “Come Lord Jesus!” Again this new birth, this resurrection, is symbolised in baptism by our coming back up from the water.

So the past reality is Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf, the future reality is our own resurrection, and in the meantime we stand in between, in a place between two realms, the realm of sin and the realm of righteousness in Christ.

The Present

And so we’re faced by a present question and a present imperative. Will we make the death to sin marked by our baptism a present reality in our daily living? Will we die to sin daily and hourly as a free, active choice of life? Will we constantly be putting to death our sinful natures and rising to newness of life in obedience to God? Now that’s not a hypothetical question. It’s a question that impacts on our whole life: our moral and ethical behaviour; our relationships; our attitude to work and money and possessions; to the way we interact with our culture, the world around us. 

You see the difficulty we face is this. The past act of Christ is complete. We’ve taken hold of it by faith, we’ve been sealed in it by baptism, we’re freed from the bonds of sin, but the final reality is still in the future, maybe way in the future. We still live in that place between death and resurrection. We still live our lives in our old bodies with our old weaknesses and urges. Yet Christ has died so we can be freed from the enslavement that goes with that body. He says “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” 

The possibility is there for us to obey God in a way that was never possible before we were raised to new life. But we still have to take hold of that reality. We need to put the old body to death, to bury it. For fallen human beings, our present life means bondage to sin. And the only way to escape that bondage is to die. Solzhenitsyn, the Russian author, writing about life in the Siberian Gulags under Stalin, described death as the ultimate freedom. Similarly, Paul uses the idea of burial in v4 to indicate the reality of our release from that bondage.

A funeral and the burial or cremation that goes with it is a vital part in the process of mourning isn’t it? It provides a sense of finality that’s important in coming to terms with loss. You often hear about people who have been lost and assumed dead but their bodies are never found. And their families find it so hard to come to terms with their grief. It’s only when the body is found and they can have a funeral and the person is buried or cremated that they can finally begin to deal with their loss. So for us, our dying and being buried with Christ means we’re finally freed from the power of sin. That’s what happened to Jesus when he died. He was freed from the power of sin and death. That’s why he rose again, because death had no hold over him. And he takes us spiritually into his death so we too can be freed from the power of sin and death. But the challenge for us is to take hold of that fact; to make it more than a neat theological statement. We need to make it a daily reality in our lives.

Similarly our future hope of being raised with Christ begs the question will we begin now to live our lives as though we were in God’s presence already? How are we who are in Christ Jesus to put sin to death in our lives and begin now to live our lives for God?

In v11 he moves from explanation to exhortation. He says “You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” That is, we should consider the truth of our present life in Christ Jesus and take it seriously. Set our lives to match the past and present reality under which we live.

So what will that mean for us? What difference will it make to our lives? Well, let me put it like this: where are you going to live your life? I don't mean what suburb, or city, or country. I mean which reality are you going to hold to as you live in the tension of these last days; in the tension between death and resurrection? What is it that will rule your life? Sin or God? Bondage to sin or true freedom in Christ. Can you see the parallel here. You may well decide to live your life in a particular suburb or city or country because they offer certain advantages: environment or opportunity or comfort or safety. Similarly we need to decide where we’ll live our spiritual life. Where is it that will best match who we are in God’s eyes? Where is it that will best enable and equip us to serve the one who’s now our Lord.

You see some people try to live their lives ignoring this. They say, “I’m a Christian now, so I know I’m saved. I never ask whether God loves me or accepts me. I know he does. But I’m not going to change anything in the way I live, or the things I do or think about, or the places I go. I’ll just carry on the way I always have and trust God to look after me.”  Or perhaps they say, “I can’t be perfect anyway. So what if I sin a little? God will forgive me.”

So what’s wrong with that sort of attitude? Isn’t the problem that the place they live their lives mentally, spiritually, the way they frame their thoughts, the activities that take up their time, aren’t necessarily the places, the thoughts, the activities that God wants them to be involved with or that’ll help them in their future life with him? Too often the things of the past are the things associated with the rule of sin over our lives. And the problem with being satisfied with a little bit of sin in our lives is that even a little is too much. Even a little can corrupt all the bits that are good.

It’s a high bar isn’t it? In the next section, that we’ll look at next week he  says, “No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” The choice is between making our body an instrument of wickedness or as an instrument of righteousness.

So is that possible? Do you feel like you’re able to choose where you live? This is tricky isn’t it? Sometimes we feel unable to live the way we want to. We feel like it’s all too hard. There’s too much pressure on us from outside. Most work places for example are difficult places for Christians to be at the moment. Our social interactions with non-Christians can present a challenge when the conversation strays into areas of morals and ethics. Cancel culture has made it almost impossible to express a contrarian view.

 But the picture we’re given here is of the possibility of a new beginning. The picture of death followed by new life is a picture of new beginnings, of second chances. But it isn’t just that we can make new choices. If that’s all it were, then we’d be in the same pickle as before, wouldn’t we? We’d be just as likely to make the wrong choices all over again. That’s what’s wrong with asking someone “If you had the chance to live your life over again would you take it?” Even if you did take it you’d be just as likely to make the same mistakes as you did the first time wouldn’t you? If not even worse mistakes!

But what he’s talking about here in this passage is more than just a second chance at the same old life. It’s actually a new life altogether.  But it’s a life that we need to choose to walk in, if you can understand what I mean by that. You see, God has never made people follow him. He doesn’t want his people to act like robots. That’s why it was possible for Adam and Eve to disobey in the first place; because he wanted their willing obedience.

So now, he raises us to new life in Christ, and at the same time he urges us to freely choose to walk in that life. So we get these different ways of thinking about that choice. We’re to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ. We’re to present ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and we’re to present our members, our whole bodies, to God as instruments of righteousness. We’re to live our lives as though we’re in training for the life with God that’s to come. There’s to be an active choice on our part about the direction we’ll head, about the lifestyle we’ll choose. Do you remember those WWJD bracelets that young people used to wear 20 or 30 years ago? It was probably a bit corny but the idea was spot on. They were meant to remind us at every decision making point in our lives to ask “How will this decision reflect my new life of righteousness in Christ?”

And notice, there’s a new freedom given to us to make that choice possible. At the end of the next section he says: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” You see, there’s a sense in which our previous inability to do what was right was limited by the death that was inherited from Adam. But now we live under grace. Jesus’ risen life has freed us from death. We’re liberated by the knowledge that our sins are forgiven. We’re liberated by the knowledge that the resurrection to eternal life awaits us. We’re liberated by the new life given to us by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. And that new freedom means that we can make the choice that we’re urged to make here: to live all of our life in the reality of Christ: to present our members to God as instruments of righteousness.

Our spiritual reality is this: sin no longer rules us. In fact we’re now free to stand against sin’s rule and to choose to follow Christ. There’s a sense in which this new way of living is dependent on us choosing to say “Yes” to God; yet at the same time that’s made possible only by God’s grace at work in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Our choice doesn’t make us worthy, but our choice is necessary if we’re to live Christ’s risen life in the midst of a fallen world and while we’re still in these fallen bodies.

So here is the challenge of the gospel. Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, and in response exercise your will to put to death that which belongs to the old life, presenting your bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.

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